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Monday, May 22, 2017

Overcoming The Stigma Of Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month 
Trevor Steinhauser learn to overcome their feelings of guilt and shame regarding their disease. / Image: Brian Planalp
By Brian Planalp 

"It was like getting introduced to myself for the first time,” says Trevor Steinhauser, 39, of Fort Thomas. “It was the best moment of my life.”

That moment came in 2015 following a meaningful stay at Lindner Center of HOPE, the Mason-based mental health treatment center. There he received a diagnostic assessment and preliminary treatment plan for substance abuse. But if substance abuse was Steinhauser’s most dire problem, it was far from his only one.


Steinhauser is married and has three children. He has a successful career, an engaging smile, and a “give back” attitude. You would hardly know from speaking to him that for most of his life he labored under a patchwork of diagnoses covering mania, night terrors, anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity.

One cause was apparent to him long before his visit to the center: his numerous and lifelong incidents of head trauma, which increased his susceptibility to substance abuse. But as those who’ve weathered mental illness know, pinpointing causes is only a first step—and often a painful one.
Indeed, what followed for Steinhauser was a persecutory drift through the question of whether this was who he really was or whether, had things gone differently, he might’ve been someone else. Such is the Schrödinger's Cat of mental illness, a quagmire of guilt, shame, and defeatism that prevents those who need treatment from seeking it because they fear being stigmatized by family and friends as just another druggie who doesn’t deserve their attention.

For Steinhauser the fear was unfounded. It was his sister who came to his rescue following a particularly serious episode of drug abuse in 2015, and it was his sister who implored him to seek treatment. Steinhauser agreed, and just days later he walked through the Lindner Center doors ready to change.


In his time at the Lindner Center—first in its residential program then as a regular attendee of its group therapy sessions—Steinhauser has learned to overcome his intense feelings of guilt and shame regarding his substance abuse. He's also finally pieced together a coherent portrait of what he now recognizes as a disease. The head trauma was a factor, to be sure. But genetics played a substantial role as well, a revelation that proved liberating. And now that Steinhauser understands what makes him him, he's able to focus on the work of getting healthy.
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That work will never be finished, of course. Why? Because Steinhauser didn’t step in a puddle or trip on the sidewalk. He was born predisposed to a potentially catastrophic disease, a disease that might have ruined him had it not been for his sister’s bravery, the clinicians, and ultimately his willingness to seek treatment.

Not everyone is in the same boat. Some people refuse to seek treatment because the stigma of mental illness remains overwhelming. To them, Steinhauser has a simple message: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

His message to the family and friends of those people is equally simple: “Act now. It’s not going to be easy, but act now.”

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